The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ancient Cookery

with your host
Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné
(Number 10 in the Series)

Well, after several years, my contact with the SCA has shifted from the primarily ephemeral(ie. electronic and paper based) into the solidly physical; to wit, I'm doing another feast. This time the event will be a small one, a maximum of twenty people. The main reason for the limited size is the limited space available - I am, after all living in Whyt Whey now, aka Manhattan, aka The Home of the Rents That Ate The Universe. The limited space in this case is the "Community Room" in my co-op building (for those of you not living in Manhattan, a "co-op" apartment is like a condo, only different). That means the feast will have to be cooked in my kitchen. The combination of these two factors set the upper limit on the number of people.

Next, I arbitrarily chose a cost of $5 per person for the feast. The site is free (one of the advantages of home ownership), so now I have a modestly priced little event. We scheduled it for a Friday night and decided not to advertise it too heavily.

Then it was a question of sitting down and choosing a menu. Pulling out my copy of Digbie's Closet, available from His Grace Cariadoc (information available on the web at I spent some happy time poring over the recipes contained therein. The ones that caught my eye were:
To Make Spinage-Broth (Digbie pg. 123)
To Roast Fine Meat (Digbie pg. 157)
To Stew A Rump of Beef (Digbie pg. 196)
To Stew Wardens (Digbie pg. 201)
My Lord Lumley's Pease-Porage (Digbie pg. 142)

I also decided more or less arbitrarily that I would probably serve trenchers and rice. That gave me a couple of vegetables (if you count the soup), a couple of starches, and a couple of meats.

The recipe that looked the most interesting to me was To Stew A Rump of Beef.

"Take a rump of Beef, break all the bones; season it with Pepper and Salt to your liking; Take three or four Nutmegs, and a quantity of Mace, beat them grossly; Then take a bunch of very good sweet herbs, and good Onion cut in quarters. or Garlicke, as you like it. Put in half a pint of White-wine Vinegar, and one Pint of good Claret, one handful of Sugar; and a piece or two of beef Suet or Butter: shred some Cabbage under and over, and scrape in a pound of good old Cheese. Put all these into an earthen pot, and let it stand in an oven with brown-bread four or five hours; but let the pot be covered close with paste."

That seemed pretty straightforward but sounded awfully good. Here's what I did. I bought a small boneless rump roast, about 3 pounds and a head of green cabbage. I shredded the cabbage a bit with my knife and put half of it in my pot. I sprinkled the roast liberally on all sides with salt and pepper and put it on the cabbage. I measured a quarter pint of white vinegar and a half a pint of red wine in a large cup and added to it some mace and nutmeg - a couple of teaspoons of each perhaps. For sweet herbs I used basil, rosemary, savory, thyme, mint, marjoram and a bay leaf. All of that was stirred into the wine and vinegar and then poured over the roast. A couple of dabs of butter were put on top, then the rest of the cabbage. Then I grated about a half a pound of cheddar cheese on top of that. (I thought I was making a half recipe, you see.) Then I threw on a smallish handfull of sugar and a crushed garlic clove. I would have added the sugar and garlic earlier but I forgot. At this point, the liquid was not very high in the pot (the pot was really a little too large for a roast this size), so I added in another equal quantity of vinegar and wine. I made a paste out of an egg, a little water and enough flour to get a dough and used it to seal the lid of the pot.

[Update 5 June 2004: I'm not sure that modern cheddar is the right cheese to use. Although Cheddar cheese - that is, cheese from Cheddar - was well known early on, I can't find documentation pointing to when the "cheddaring" process came into use. It's good with modern cheddar, though.]

Digbie thoughtfully provides us with both times and temperatures for the actual cooking, a rarity in these books. He tells us to put it an oven with brown-bread for four of five hours. Consulting "Beard on Bread" by James Beard, I find that he cooks brown bread at 350. To double check, I looked in a couple of general use cookbooks to see what they recommend for braising beef. Success! They also said 350 and the times they gave agreed pretty well with Digbie as well.

The result was quite good. The cheese melted into the sauce and the spice mix was mellow and had a nice flavor. Furthermore, with the amount of cabbage in the recipe, I decided I could probably do without the Peas-Porage.

Since writing the above tentative menu, I've also changed my mind about the Stewed Wardens. Instead, I think I'll do Stewed Apples.

That means, next time is Stewed Apples!

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Comments are welcome.
Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné, Jeff Berry,

Copyright Jeff Berry
Originally webbed 3/5/98
Last modified 3/5/98